LAS VEGAS -- Brittney Griner isn't at USA Basketball team training camp here, but because of recent events, she looms large even in her absence. It seems unfortunate that at a gathering of so many extremely accomplished athletes who embrace being role models, such an uncomfortable topic as domestic violence has to be discussed.
But then again, maybe it's situations like these where it's actually best to get this topic in the open even more, to face the discomfort it provokes head-on. Because both USA Basketball and the WNBA need to make clear statements about domestic violence.
"It's an awkward thing, because we all understand people make mistakes," said Maya Moore, who in 2014 was the WNBA's MVP and USA Basketball's female player of the year. "But because we are public figures, there's a responsibility to address it.
"As to how you address it ... I don't know that I can tell you what's enough and what's not enough. But it does need to be addressed. Domestic violence can't be a topic that you ignore."
"There are going to be moments in your life where you are going to have to face something very challenging, and you have to do that in the public eye. Which makes it more difficult. But life is about stuff you have to deal with and grow from." Diana Taurasi
That doesn't mean that Griner, who was on the 2014 world championship squad and was originally scheduled to be at this week's camp, needs to be excessively punished by the WNBA or USA Basketball. It also doesn't mean either has to act in haste, or make decisions in reaction to the recent struggles other organizations -- such as the NFL with Ray Rice and U.S. Soccer with Hope Solo -- have had in responding to the issue of domestic violence.
But this must be seen as a time to take a true leadership stand, to be proactive and not dwell for too long in the "gathering information" mode both the WNBA and USA Basketball have been in. There's an important message to be sent: Women are not just victims of domestic violence, but also can be perpetrators. And in cases where the parties are of the same sex, we can't be any less diligent about demanding accountability from those involved.
Griner and her fiancée, Tulsa Shock forward Glory Johnson, were arrested April 22 after police were called to their residence in Arizona because the two were fighting. Griner's lawyer has since announced that the Phoenix star pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and will take part in a 26-week domestic violence diversion program. There has been no public announcement regarding Johnson's legal situation.
Neither player has been suspended yet by the WNBA. The league doesn't specifically reference domestic violence in its collective bargaining agreement, but does allow for punishment regarding general off-court incidents. Based on conversations I've had with players and others close to the league, it seems more likely than not that some punishment will be forthcoming.
The WNBA and USA Basketball represent the absolute best of professional female athletes -- both on the court and off, where community good works and philanthropy are such a big part of these women's lives. The issue of domestic violence is a conversation society must continue to have, and women's professional sports have to be a part of dialogue.
"The league is taking time figuring out exactly what happened and understandably being cautious. But at this point, I think the sooner the better. I don't doubt that they will do something." Nneka Ogwumike
At some point, Griner and Johnson could be among those who can speak about this topic, even though it is personally painful. That's probably going to take time.
After consultation with national team director Carol Callan last weekend, Griner decided to opt out of this training camp, although Callan said Griner was still in good standing with USA Basketball.
Griner's agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, issued a statement Monday saying Griner wanted to focus on her counseling and didn't believe she could make the physical and mental commitment that the camp deserves.
The decision was probably best for all parties. This is one of the few opportunities leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics that USA Basketball has to gather its coaches and senior national team pool members. It is a time not just for evaluating performances, but for bonding as a unit. Griner certainly shouldn't be made to feel like a pariah -- nor do the other players here look at her that way -- but the issues she's dealing with should be her priority right now.
However, the topic remained an important one to address, and the players at camp didn't shirk from that. The easy thing to do would be to offer a "no comment" or "I don't want to get into that." To their credit, several players thoughtfully answered difficult questions. And that says a lot about their character.
"It's a sensitive issue, but I think there has to be an understanding that there are repercussions for this, not just legally but with the institutions you represent," Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike said. "The league is taking time figuring out exactly what happened and understandably being cautious. But at this point, I think the sooner the better. I don't doubt that they will do something."
Seattle's Sue Bird, one of the longest-tenured national team members, echoed Ogwumike.
"As professional athletes, we're role models -- whether you want to be or not," Bird said. "And domestic violence is a serious issue. Since we are talking about Brittney and Glory specifically, I know both of them are taking this very seriously."
"" ... We all understand people make mistakes. But because we are public figures, there's a responsibility to address it. ... Domestic violence can't be a topic that you ignore." Maya Moore
Diana Taurasi is a teammate of Griner's with Phoenix, and also has embraced being her mentor -- not just about basketball matters, but about leadership, sacrifice, commitment and facing responsibility. Taurasi said she was as surprised as anyone to hear about the arrests, and has reached out to Griner.
"I really just spoke to her as a friend," said Taurasi, a three-Olympian who is at the camp but can't participate due to a broken hand. "There are going to be moments in your life where you are going to have to face something very challenging, and you have to do that in the public eye. Which makes it more difficult. But life is about stuff you have to deal with and grow from."
Taurasi has been through some tough situations in her own career: a DUI arrest in 2009, for which she was suspended two games by the WNBA, and a 2010 accusation of doping, for which she was exonerated after the lab conducting the drug tests faced questions about major procedural improprieties.
In the former case, Taurasi took full responsibility for the arrest and acknowledges now that while it was extremely embarrassing and even soul-shaking, it helped make her a better and stronger person. In the latter case, she experienced what it's like to be judged harshly about something that turned out to be false.
"Brittney will learn from this and grow from this," Taurasi said. "I know for me, my situations helped me be a person who values the people around me and how much time they put into my well-being.
"There are things that happen in life, but they are unacceptable. Domestic violence is unacceptable. And us being a women's league ... there are so many questions that the league has to answer and set a precedent for."
In the days and weeks that follow, we will observe how both the WNBA and USA Basketball answer those questions. It can be very difficult to sort through all of it, but it's also absolutely necessary.